A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I've been up in Berkeley for four weeks and have begun to develop a routine. Many of us are up early for Morning Prayer, classes, weekday Eucharist, lunch, more classes, Evening Prayer, perhaps more classes and lots and lots of studying. Some students form study groups and I'm participating in one for a Hebrew language class and a discussion group for Early Christian History.

The community has a distinct personality. Each class has shaped the life of CDSP as an institution as much as it has shaped the individuals that make up the student body. Not everything is learned in the classroom. The professors are amazing. The faculty really cares about the seminarians and each in their own way has already made an impresion upon us. In addition to prodding our preconceived notions of how things "should" or "ought" to be in the Episcopal church, we are, in a sense, forced to look long and hard at our own beliefs, at our preferences, and at our selves.

Living in close proximity to budding church leaders and folks from all around the United States and the globe, we rub off on each other. Some times we can rub each other the wrong way. All of this comes together under what is called "formation". Mirriam -Webster defines formation as an act of giving form or shape to something taking form. We, the seminarians, are that something taking form. So everything becomes part of the learning process.

Everything we choose to do, and there is a superabundance of things to do, shapes us into something different than what we once were. Last week my head was so full of early martyrs, Hebrew vocabulary, history, legends, myths, traditions, local and national issues facing the Episcopal Church and the wider church, that even my dreams were effected.

Saturday, September 25th, some of us ventured out to the Angel Island Immigration Station for what was called the Pilgrimage To Angel Island 2010: Wispers of the Past to the Cries of Justice Today. The program was intended to help citizens remember the religious communities that served, and advocated for, the detainees of Angel Island, and how that speaks to the world today.

The simple ceremony highlighted why it is important to remember what happed on Angel Island and the profound impact issues of immigration have on people. I was moved by an elderly man that was helped to the microphone and told his story to us. Dale Ching, a former detainee, began by saying, "Welcome to my first home in America". Here is his story.

After weeks on a crowded boat, the hopeful immigrants were greeted at the docks by armed guards. Men, women, and children were immediately separated into barracks. The doors locked from the outside and opened only for meals and in the afternoon for a period of recreation. They were locked in day and night. He was held for three and a half months, but many were held for three or more years. Dale was only 16.

Laborers were sought out to help with America's push West, the Gold Rush, building railroads, and at times the very workers that were brought here to help were blamed for taking away jobs, especially when the economy went sour. Though only 10% of those who came to the Island were sent home, they lived in fear.

In July of 1937 Dale was granted permission to enter the United States. Taken on a boat to one of the many San Francisco piers, he saw his father waiting on the dock. This was the first time that he had seen his father in seven years. He never wanted to return to Angel Island. This was part of his past, but not something he talked about.

Years later his children talked him into returning to the Island. They had so many questions. In 1991 he started to volunteer at the Detention Center as a docent. He wanted to tell new generations his story. Dale wanted the public to know what happened here so they could interpret for themselves the history of the immigrants. He hopes that by telling his story it might help ensure fair treatment for all people.

We also heard the story of Deaconess Katharine Maurer who minstered to the women and children here. In her smart suit and cape she brought hope and comfort to those locked inside the cramped barracks. There were many Chinese, Mexican, Korean immigrants waiting for permission to start a new life. In the 1930's and early 1940's Jews fled from Germany, Poland, Austria and other European countries as a result persecution. In the anti-immigration atmosphere of her day, Deaconess Katherine worked hard to mitigate the hard realities faced behind the barbed wire fences of the detention center. She preached a message of love, respect and tollerance. She once said, "We look pretty much the same to God. We are all his foolish children".

Many others spoke out against the current climate of fear and hate surrounding the immigration debate. Once American daughter who's father was recently deported said that "there is no nice way of discrimination". Another person noted that hate and discrimination is not over - it has been modernized.

I don't claim to have an answer. The issues surrounding immigration are complex. It is, though, upsetting to see politicians scapegoat immigrants to get votes. Fear and hate have been used for personal gain. These people carelessly ignite fires of discrimination. I pray for the dignity of all immigrants, of all people struggling to find a better life for themselves and their family.

I'm put in mind of a quote by Woodrow T. Wilson, who said, "America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses".

One of the recent Community Eucharists on Thursday night featured a prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that guides my thinking on this and many other issues of importance.

God, grant us the serentity
to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdome to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
taking as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is, not as we would have it,
trusting that you will make all things right if we surrender to your will,
that we may be reasonable happy in this life,
and supremely happy with you forever in the next. AMEN.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The lights are on

Heading home late this evening from studying I noticed more than half the lights were on in Parsons Hall (the CDSP dorm). Now, there's no way to verify that all those lights represent grad/doctoral students hard at work, but knowing the homework that needed to get done this weekend, it is entirely probable.

Most of my time has been spent digesting the writings of the early church, early christian history and learning the Hebrew vowels. It is strange to think that in just a couple of weeks our class has gone from learning the "alef bet" to reading Proverbs 1: 1-4. It is overwhelming and awesome.

This morning, on part of my trek to Episcopal Churches in the Berkeley and Bay area, a GTU friend and I went to St. Clements in Berkeley to hear a seminarian from CDSP preach. Kay did a great job with the Gospel text and made us proud. She had confidence and poise, but most importantly she had a passionate message to proclaim. Brava!

The church is over 100 years old and the stained glass windows tell more than the stories of the scriptures but of many, many people over the last 100 years that have loved, served and wanted to be remembered. Sometimes I fear our memory is too short, but at St. Clements they lovingly keep both the 1928 prayer book, east facing altar, reverence and modernity in thoughtful tension. If you're ever in the Berkeley area it is a wonderful oasis to consider even if your not a fan of Rite I or the 1928 prayer book service.

The rest of the day was spent reading and in a Hebrew language study group thanks to Elizabeth and Hannah. Once more over the flash cards and then to bed. The day begins early with Morning Prayer at 7:30 in the Chapel. Good night!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Getting settled

Since arriving in Berkeley on Saturday afternoon, the weekend and following week have been a bit of a blur. I was told to call one of the Prefects for Parsons Hall upon arriving. How very "Harry Potter". Both Irene and Kay have been a huge help to me and all the incoming students. I'm sure they have a billion things to do but they have answered questions, made mass runs to CVS, Target, and helped locate odds and ends of left over bookcases and chairs to help transform the dorm rooms into our new homes.

After getting settled I made plans to visit Church of the Advent of Christ the King on Sunday with my new friend Irene. Founded in 1858, Church of the Advent of Christ the King is one of the oldest churches in the Diocese of California. Here the beautiful Anglo-Catholic service is both ancient and modern in the context of this lively South of Market (SOM) neighborhood. We arrived early so Irene could share with me this amazing breakfast place called La Boulange. That morning it seemed everyone was out with their dogs to enjoy the perfect weather.

The service at Church of the Advent, though different from my beloved St. Thomas the Apostle - Hollywood, was familiar and made me feel a little less homesick. Though the service is "high" in most respects, it is inclusive in language and very welcoming to the local community. Homeless and "high church" folks together pray and worship the God who loves and welcomes everyone.

The first year it is expected that I'll visit and experience a wide variety of worshipping communities. Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay area have something for everyone (literally) and I can't wait to experience as many as possible. One of the benefits of attending Church Divinity School of the Pacific is experiencing the wider religious offerings of the Graduate Theological Union. We all share meals in a common dining room and can take some courses outside our own seminary setting. This rich eccumenical tradition is the strength and one of the main attractions for many on "holy hill". CDSP is located between Le Conte and Ridge on a slight hill on the edge of Cal Berkeley and its location along with many of the other seminaries surrounding it gives rise to the nickname of being the "holy hill".

Orientation Week has been packed with important information, academic and community tips, a few boring administrative details that are made more palatable by the helpful support staff and faculty, signing up for classes and ordering all books on-line. Thank God Amazon has many of the titles available new and used. After doing a little research checking for the best prices I was able to save over one hundred dollars. Now that I'm on a seminarian's budget every penny counts and I feel a great obligation to be a better steward of the bounty with which God has blessed me.

If you would like to help defray the cost of books or help in any way it would be appreciated. Checks can be made out to Church Divinity School of the Pacific with the memo portion stating that you are making a donation "For Steve De Muth". The Church Divinity School of the Pacific's address is 2451 Ridge Road, Berkeley, California 94709-1217.

Tonight there was the Graduate Theological Union BBQ. It was great to get to know the CDSP family better and make a few friends from the other seminaries. Somehow a bunch of us ended up on the porch of the Dominican student's house for spirited conversations and beverages. We may not have solved all the problems of the world but we have made some new friends.